ASUS may ship two-screen Windows 7 notebooks in Q1

SANTA BARBARA, CALIF. -- Asustek, also known as ASUS -- the people who make the Eee PC -- plans to ship new notebooks that have touch screens on both the top (where the screen normally goes) and the bottom (where the keyboard normally goes) as early as the first quarter of next year, according to a report.

OK, let's back up for a second. First of all, I described in my Computerworld.com column back in June what I believe is the future of nearly all mainstream notebooks from both Microsoft's OEM partners and from Apple. The basic design will be, I believe, one that has screens on both the top and the bottom, just like the next version of the One Laptop Per Child project. If you look at the pictures in that column, you can see the four usage modes: 

1. Tablet mode. Snap the laptop open and flat, and the two screens work together as one giant touch screen. 

2. Laptop mode. Open the virtual keyboard, which appears full-size on the bottom touch screen, and use like a regular clamshell laptop. 

3. Book mode. Open an e-Book and hold it sideways like an open book. One page appears on the left screen and the next page appears on the right. Touch the corner to turn the page. 

4. Two-person mode. Open it flat again like Tablet mode, but click a button to make one screen orient itself for one user and the other toward you. 

This form-factor is useless without an advanced, MPG user interface, which I've written about in my Computerworld.com column as well. MPG stands for multi-touch, physics and gestures. The best known examples of MPG user interfaces are the Apple iPhone and Microsoft's Surface.

OK, enough with the vision. Let's look at the reality. ASUS showed off during Computex 2008 just such a system (see photo below). 

The news today is that Digitimes, which covers Taiwanese manufacturing, claims that a source told them ASUS's touch panel laptops will be launched during the first or second quarters of 2009

These laptops are reportedly designed to work with the upcoming Windows 7 operating system, which Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer promised would include a multi-touch user interface. 

If the report is true, and ASUS does meet its ship target, it does not mean Windows 7 will be ready by then. It's possible that the company may offer an upgrade voucher for buyers to get Windows 7 later on.

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